WHEELING – When a costumed and strapped Howard Gamble rushed into Artworks Around Town on a recent afternoon, he had a crooked lunch bag in one arm and was busy texting and looking for change to fuel a central market counter.
He didn’t want a ticket. He also didn’t want COVID to unleash itself in schools, where cases suddenly spiked after Thanksgiving. He was already organizing an evening immunization clinic at a school as he almost rushed to his vehicle, coins in hand.
It was a busy day. One of hundreds of busy days for the county’s top public health official since COVID began. But, by the time he returned to the gallery space dedicated to exhibiting his stained glass windows, Gamble suddenly transformed into the cool artist he said he would be full-time if such thing was financially possible.
âIt’s the light that affects the final product and what penetrates the wall and the floor,â he explained, explaining why he loves glass as a medium. âWith bevelled pieces, you see rainbows. Along with other coins, you can wash a coin with red, green, and blue.
He went on to talk about texture and every artist’s battle between creating and selling in a market where it’s even difficult to get someone to stand still long enough to look at a piece of work. He shrugged at that last thing. He creates, whatever.
“It’s a good distraction,” he said of his art, glancing another quick glance at his phone before continuing with the interview.
A UNIQUE CLASS
âI took a class at Oglebay and never left,â Gamble said of his stained glass debut about 20 years ago. He’s taken so many classes, in fact he’s now an instructor at Stifel Fine Arts Center.
Gamble also produces a lot of artwork, much of which is sold through Artworks Around Town. Some pieces don’t go that far, he admitted, explaining that they are purchased as soon as he posts them on his Facebook page.
However, COVID has affected its one-man supply chain. âWhen you don’t have a pandemic, I have to do a tremendous amount of stuff – teaching or the works that are hanging here or commissioned works. Right now, what’s displayed in the Art Gallery is almost all of its stock.
And, smaller-scale repairs – no large church windows, as it doesn’t have the huge studio it takes to take down large panels for repositioning – are literally out of the question until that COVID is over, he noted.
âI had to tell people that it was going to take months, not weeks,â he said of his refusal of such a job. “They are a little disappointed.”
As COVID has slowed production, Gamble said its supplies are so local that there is no problem there. Almost all of its glass comes from factories in Paden City and Connellsville, Pa.
âIt’s very nice to be in this area,â said Gamble, who grew up in Webster County. âYou can drive and touch the stained glass window instead of looking at it online. “
There was also local help to create the literal medium needed to make a large work function as a stand-alone work of art, rather than being placed in a window frame. Gamble recalled a time when a local hardware store introduced him to wire more commonly used for fencing to stabilize a large circular room that reminds him of lying on the ground and looking in. the canopy of a tree.
âYou have a lot of pieces that come together – the weight of the glass, the solder, the metal around it,â he said, noting that he now often adds flat copper wire under the lead which connects the glass pieces.
Gamble said he learned how critical such reinforcement was the hard way, when he made a set of windows large enough for his parents’ patio doors. “When I took it out and picked it up first, it doubled over.”
When Gamble is in full production, he makes parts to order. “They have a desire to have a piece of stained glass, but they have a specific place for it,” he said of a typical order intended either to be installed on a certain window or to become a window. window itself.
âThe pieces ordered are unique,â ââhe added. “(But) I think I like doing a song without any pressure anymore.”
Inspiration for the latter can come from anywhere – old designs, new designs or just nature, he said. When he noticed a line of birds on a wire, he ended up making an inverted image of what he had seen – creating a line of colorful birds against a white sky.
He also recently completed a rose window about 4 feet tall – one size, he says, is roughly the outer limit of what can support itself without a frame (and fit into a potential buyer’s vehicle. )
âMaking a big piece is wonderful. You go back and forth to work on it. It’s taking me a while, âsaid Gamble, noting that he recently collaborated with Artworks photographer Larry Travis to create a stained glass version of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge.
Most sales are local given the potential size and fragility of his job, but Gamble said a Louisiana man who was visiting the city managed to ship a larger piece to that state thanks to Spry’s Mail Center Plus. .
He also recently learned that Congressman David McKinley, RW.Va., had received some of his pieces which are now hanging in his office in Washington, DC.
Gamble’s son, who attends the Capitol School and saw one on a visit, took a quick photo with his phone. “Is this yours?” asked the son. It was, and Gamble – the artist and public official – was doubly elated. “These are the most public pieces I know of.”